Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer School - Day Nine - The Substitute Teacher... Again

As predicted in my last post, after I took a day off, my students complained that the TOC (Teacher-On-Call) did not teach them anything. "It was so confusing!" and "We didn't get it!" echoed off the walls.

Despite the fact that I know the TOC personally and find her to be a highly competent teacher. Despite the fact that her notes were still on the whiteboard when I came in this morning and they looked exactly like what I would have done. Despite the fact that almost the entire class got 100% on a quiz she gave them at the end of class.

So what happened? Is it just a reflex for students to complain about the TOC? Is it their fault for not paying attention? Is it her fault? Maybe she didn't explain it well. Is it my fault? I never should have taken a day off.

Someone should really do a study on this. Seriously. I have almost no confidence in this system of substitute teaching even though I have great confidence in many substitute teachers. I know when I am absent, someone must take my place. But how we do this needs to change somehow because I don't believe it works.

Occasionally I will find a bright young teacher who seems to connect with my class and it's not a complete disaster. But then that bright young teacher gets hired to their own classroom and I'm left with no one again. There are several retired teachers on the TOC list who are eminently capable. But they are not always available since they would rather be on the back porch sipping wine then teaching a bunch of teenagers.

It seems especially difficult to find quality physics TOCs. I don't think it's fair to my students to have an English teacher attempt to teach them relativity. It's also not fair to the TOC. So, I schedule days off during tests or give the class a study day. The TOC role becomes glorified babysitter. And I think that diminishes the dignity of the job they are meant to do.

And as I transition to a modeling method of teaching, it will only get more difficult. I don't believe there is such a thing as a modeling substitute teacher. The only viable solution I can think of is to have another modeling teacher across the hall who won't mind taking on my classes as well as his own on the days I am sick.

What do you say Blair?


  1. No problems. I'm up for covering your classes and then the TOC can cover mine.....except they'll be modeling method as well, but I guess Science 8 is more manageable then Physics 11/12 for most TOCs:)

    On a more serious note this is another issue for us to think about. I know Dan Meyer has a post about how videotaped himself teaching and left notes for the TOC about when to pause, what to ask. Wondering if we could pre-prep some TOC lessons like this with more generic or review type problem activities. I'm also thinking that as the year goes on & students become more comfortable with modeling we could appoint team leaders or class facilitators whose role it is to strictly assist the teams and keep them on track with a set of notes we leave for them.

    I think the whole "the sub didn't teach us" is part of the game of learned helplessness that the students are used to playing. It is a statement that reinforces or emphasizes their belief that the learning and their improvement is the teacher's responsibility. The more we can get them out of this mode and model of acquiring discrete and disconnected skills, the less I think we'll hear comments like this.

  2. @Blair

    Brilliant as always!

    I think the idea of team leaders is excellent. As students get more familiar with modeling, they should "know the drill" and be able to move through the activty pretty well on their own. One crucial area of concern is during whiteboarding presentations when Socratic questionning is needed to draw out key points and misunderstandings. I would hope, as the year goes on, students also learn how to become actively involved in questionning other groups.

    I think it is extremely important to agressively change the culture of learned helplessness. A large part of modeling and SBG is students taking responsibility for their own learning. They have to since constructing their own knowledge is really the best way for them to learn.